Rocco Mediate, holding a three-stroke lead before heading into Sunday’s final round of the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, said he did not expect a “walk in the park” in those last 18 holes.
Mediate was correct, but he survived. He won the tournament by two strokes over Tom Pernice Jr. and Bernhard Langer, but that walk he referred to was more like one on a bed of hot coals.
“Like I’ve been saying,” Mediate said afterward, “it’s never easy. And it shouldn’t be easy.”
Mediate, who shot a final-round 1-under-par 71 for a minus-17 total of 199, walked away with a great big sigh of relief and $270,000 after Sunday’s victory on The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said.
By winning, Mediate became the 16th player in history to win his first appearance on the Champions Tour, joining the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
Mediate, 50, just shook his head when he heard those names and said, “I don’t really belong to be anywhere near that.” Then he hesitated, and with a smile, added, “But that’s really cool.”
Mediate said Pernice, a good friend, gave him a tough run. “He just doesn’t make mistakes, and playing him is like beating your head into the wall.”
Pernice was disappointed by not pulling off the victory, but graciously accepted his fate.
He finally made up the starting three-stroke deficit by pulling even with Mediate on No. 14, a par-3. Pernice made birdie and Mediate took bogey on the hole. Pernice, hitting first and using a 5-iron, put his shot 12 feet from the pin. Mediate, seeing that, also decided to go 5-iron.
Mediate proceeded to hit what he called, “The most horrible, stupidest shot. It was embarrassing.” He did find one consolation, though. He said the shot made him mad, although he described his anger in more colorful and less printable terms.
With the score tied, the match was basically starting over. “And we went at it pretty good,” Mediate said. “That was pretty cool.”
The two players traded pars on the next two holes and then Pernice got a bad break, just catching a tree and then hitting into a bunker on No. 17. He put his bunker shot onto the green, but missed the putt. Mediate made his par for a one-stroke advantage going into 18.
Both Mediate and Pernice hit their drives on the 507-yard par-5 18th too long and were stymied by a tree. Mediate was 20 yards behind the tree and took out a wedge to play safe and go over it and set up a pitch to the green. He thought for a while, put the wedge back in the bag and took out a 3-iron.
He ripped a long, hard, low slice that went through the trap onto the green and then all the way to the grandstands behind the green. He got a free drop from the grandstands, as he knew he would. “The grandstands are there,” he said, “why not use them.”
Pernice was even closer to the tree and basically made the same shot Mediate did, except with a 7-iron, and also ended up against the grandstands with a drop.
Pernice chipped first and was short and two-putted for par. Mediate chipped to four feet and made the putt for birdie and his two-stroke victory.
“The most nervous I was came at the 18th,” Mediate said.
“It was sort of strange. I had that four-footer, and all I had to do was two-putt.”
Bernhard Langer, who finished in a tie for second with Pernice, thought he played solidly all day but blamed two three-putts on Nos. 7 and 17 for coming up short.
“If I don’t have two three-putts, I’m right there,” Langer said after his 4-under 68.
When he went to the par-5 18th tee, Langer said, “I knew I needed eagle to have any chance.”
What did the victory mean to Mediate, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour?
“This means as much to me as anything I’ve done,” Mediate said.